Eye of the Tiger

EYE OF THE TIGER’S VIEW: Harassment demands greater scrutiny

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(SINO OULAD DAOUD/EYE OF THE TIGER)

(SINO OULAD DAOUD/EYE OF THE TIGER)

(SINO OULAD DAOUD/EYE OF THE TIGER)

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RJUHSD placed tenured teacher Doug Mason on administrative leave late last month in the wake of multiple sexual misconduct accusations against him, according to a district communication to students’ families. This action has been a long-time coming and falls nearly a year after a Woodcreek student first alleged Mason sexually harassed her in a spring Health and Safety course. District decisions related to investigations into Mason’s sexual misconduct reasonably raise questions about RJUHSD’s discernment and particularly, why it took so long to remove Mason from the classroom.

Despite inquiries, the specific timeline is unclear to the general public. According to reporting conducted by the Sacramento Bee, the student came forward in April last year alleging he “massaged her shoulders regularly, pulled an ankle-length skirt up to her knee, winked at her flirtatiously during class and asked that she call him during the summer so he could hear her voice.” Some time later, the district ended its initial Mason investigation. RJUHSD concluded that his behavior, while in violation of professional standards, was not sexual harassment. A questionable decision.

According to the Bee, at this time a district letter sent to the student’s family acknowledged Mason made their daughter feel “creepy” but said he would not be fired until he showed more signs of sexual misconduct because her grade in his class was unaffected. The known record shows Mason only underwent district counseling at this time. Another questionable decision.

Sexual harassment and a victim’s level of success are not in a causal relationship. The logic behind the direct correlation of an earned “A” grade to appropriate classroom culture lacks any sort of merit. A teacher who accurately assigns grades should not remain on staff if they are also taking the time to sexually harass students.

According to the Bee, the student’s family then requested the California Department of Education review the case. Although anonymous, the student and family’s consistent perseverance and determination during an inevitably trying time are to be admired.

The CDE redirected RJUHSD’s attention to the case, saying it had not been conducted properly to ensure student safety. Although the timeline is unclear, one can assume this action fell around fall of last year. The #MeToo movement was already making waves and headlines. In a time of such blatant cultural and societal revolution, erring on the side of caution and ensuring the student’s voice was heard should have been the only obvious course of action. This broader movement, the CDE recommendation, the student’s family’s resolve and Mason’s CDE documented “extensive” history of inappropriate behavior should have led the district to take aggressive action. Instead, their tone deaf response was simply not enough.

The district’s second investigation concluded Mason did in fact sexually harass the student, but not to the point of firing. To ensure her individual safety, he was transferred to teach periods at both Roseville and Oakmont instead. At this school year’s start Mason was introduced to two new, potentially vulnerable student bodies.

This move draws too many parallels to the assigning of a “sick leave” designation to a Catholic priest for it to meet moral standards.

Ultimately, the story ended up in the hands of the Sacramento Bee and the family granted an interview. The story was published Friday, Jan. 12. RJUHSD announced Mason would be placed on administrative leave Monday, Jan. 15, citing newly surfaced allegations and showing an obviously heightened sense of urgency in the face of the story’s publication.

Executive director of personnel services Brad Basham told the Bee Mason had been punished earlier “to the extent allowed by law.” However, assistant superintendent of personnel services Steve Williams told Eye of the Tiger in an email, the damning severity of evidence is determined by district personnel. It seems, if RJUHSD wanted to punish Mason more severely than it initially did, the restrictions that prevented these actions could have been resolved internally. They didn’t.Yet another questionable decision.

It is reasonable to wonder why Mason had not been put on administrative leave during the two district investigations that took place last year. We crucially urge caution and thoughtfulness when dealing with the remainder of this case and possible similar situations.

RJUHSD has sent two communications to families emphasizing its prioritization of student safety. However, it is unclear what steps RJUHSD is currently taking and will take next. As students of the district, we want and deserve to know.

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